I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 53, 65, 66, 96, 99 to 101, inclusive, 103, 107, 112 and 113 together.
Since the current economic difficulties in Europe arose, European leaders have been seized of the need to find a lasting resolution that allows us to put the crisis behind us and to focus on generating growth and jobs as a means of underpinning recovery.
Significant steps have been taken in this regard, including in strengthening budgetary discipline and in constructing stabilisation facilities and firewalls. Important progress on these elements, both of which are of importance to Ireland, was made at the meeting of the European Council last month.
In particular, leaders agreed to further strengthen economic policy co-ordination within the euro area, by way of an intergovernmental agreement, to construct a new "fiscal compact".
Negotiations are ongoing on a draft Treaty to give legal effect to this agreement.
A first draft text was circulated before Christmas and it is hoped that significant progress towards agreement will have been made before an informal meeting of the European Council scheduled for 30 January. Once agreement is reached, the text will then be prepared for signature and subsequent ratification by each of the participants according to their respective constitutional requirements.
The Government has been clear that we would have wished to proceed at the level of all 27 EU Member States. That would have facilitated inclusion of the new arrangements within the EU Treaties. Unfortunately it was not possible on this occasion.
However, all Member States are represented at the ongoing negotiations, with the UK attending as observers. This is most welcome and work is being undertaken in a spirit of co-operation and compromise, while respecting vital national interests, as has been the guiding approach to previous European negotiations.
The Government has been working intensively, at the negotiating table, in Brussels and in capitals, to make sure that our key points are understood and addressed appropriately. To that end we have offered our views both orally and in writing, including on the detailed elements of the text. Senior Irish officials have been very active in meeting their counterparts, and we have sought to secure the support of all potential allies on issues of importance to us. We will continue to do this as the process evolves.
Only when a final text is available will it be possible to reach a view on what will be required by way of ratification in Ireland. The test will be whether the proposed Treaty is compatible with the Constitution. As the Government has confirmed previously, the Attorney General will study the legal implications carefully, and will advise on what steps will be necessary to enable Ireland to ratify. Until then it is simply not possible to be definitive. As the Government has made clear many times, if a referendum is required, one will be held.
I should add in taking forward the work mandated in December, there has been no discussion of labour laws.
The House can be assured that whatever path towards ratification is required, it will be fully involved in the process.
The Government is firmly committed to continuing to engage actively with the House on matters related to our membership of the European Union. The Taoiseach met, in the immediate aftermath of the December European Council, with Opposition leaders and provided them with a briefing on developments at that meeting.
The Taoiseach and I also both addressed the Dáil on 14 December on the outcome of the Council meeting, what that would mean for Ireland and setting out our approach during the negotiation of the draft international agreement. We responded to a series of queries and points raised by Members of this House. The Government will continue the practice, initiated for the first time by this Government, of also having statements in this House ahead of each European Council meeting, as well as following such meetings, as was the practice previously.
I note also that it continues to be the practice that I or the Minister of State for European Affairs meets with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs ahead of each meeting of the General Affairs Council (GAC). These exchanges have proven to be a useful forum for a wide-ranging exchange of views on issues arising on the GAC and European Council agenda. I trust that this will continue to be the case. In addition, I will meet with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs on Friday of this week to brief the Committee on developments concerning the negotiations on the draft international agreement.
Ireland's commitment to delivering on the terms of its EU-IMF Programme is well understood and accepted. In December, European leaders again welcomed the progress we have made in that regard. Such statements are helpful in rebuilding the international reputation of this country, in generating confidence in our ability to recover, and in creating a positive impression in the minds of international investors.